Robbie Neilson has lavished praise on Callum Paterson, insisting the powerful full-back is already good enough to thrive in the daunting proving ground of English football.
The Hearts head coach believes the 20-year-old has been one of his side’s standout performers during the club’s eye-catching 100 per cent start to the Premiership campaign.
Lauding his physicality, maturity and new-found defensive stability, Neilson has seen a massive improvement from last season.
And, while he has no desire to see one of his prize assets leave Tynecastle during the current transfer window, he has no doubt Paterson is the perfect model of a Scottish youngster ready to excel south of the border.
“He’s great going forward, but he is concentrating on being a good defender and a leader now,” said Neilson. “He’s not a kid anymore and is acting like a seasoned professional.
“You can see from his performances already this season that he’s definitely improving. He’s one of the players who could go down to England today and play, because he has physicality, pace and the footballing ability to go with it.
“His mentality is coming on as well. This season, he has been one of the best players we’ve had. I’m desperate to keep a hold of him, but it will be interesting. Whether it be this window or next, he is definitely a player that, within a year or two, will be playing in England.”
In the spirit of mutual appreciation, Paterson believes much of his recent progression can by traced back to the influence of Neilson – a right-back of some repute – and former Scotland internationalist Craig Levein.
“I have two of the best former defenders in Scotland coaching me every day, so it’s great to have them at close quarters,” explained Paterson. “Robbie [Neilson] gives me pointers after every game and every training session.
“He takes me to the office and shows me what I can do better and what I’ve done well. He tells me how I can improve my game. It’s good to get that one-to-one coaching.
“Craig’s not involved quite as much as Robbie – but he is always there to help me out.”
It is points rather than personal plaudits which occupy Paterson’s thoughts as Hearts visit Ross County against a backdrop of anticipation among the Tynecastle club’s fanbase. He added: “The fans expect huge things but everybody needs to remember it’s only the start of the season.
“We have only played three games, there are still 30-odd games to go, hopefully we can keep it going today.”
Ross County will have something to say about that. They have made bright start to the season, something manager Jim McIntyre attributes partly to the leaner frame that has helped Craig Curran feed his hunger for goals.
The striker has netted three goals in County’s opening three league games after going on a new diet to give him an extra edge.
The former Tranmere and Carlisle forward established a promising partnership with Liam Boyce after arriving in Dingwall in January and McIntyre has been delighted with his progress.
McIntyre said: “He has started very well in front of goal. He and Liam have linked up well. I think Craig would be the first to acknowledge the part Liam plays. Craig has had a full pre-season under his belt which he didn’t have last year. When he came we had to work on his fitness levels. When players get that pre-season it makes such a difference.
“He’s also dropped a bit of muscle mass so he’s leaner. He’s a very, very strong boy but we felt he could do with bulking down a wee bit. He worked hard on that over the summer and it is obviously paying dividends.”